Pictured (from left) are YWCA Women of Achievement Award winners Martha Martin, Carole Motycka, Keila Barnhart, Hannah Kraner, J.J. McClain, Erika Wise, and Victoria Ellerbrock. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnahart)
Pictured (from left) are YWCA Women of Achievement Award winners Martha Martin, Carole Motycka, Keila Barnhart, Hannah Kraner, J.J. McClain, Erika Wise, and Victoria Ellerbrock. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnahart)

VAN WERT – Thursday was a night of celebration for women in Van Wert County as many were awarded during the annual YWCA Women of Achievement Scholarship Dinner. During the evening, Keynote Speaker Jordan Galloway challenged women who make it to the top to throw down a ladder of success for other women to climb.

"It's a myth that there is only room for a few of us at the top," said Galloway. "The truth is that the more of us that make it to positions of power and influence, the more capable we are of having our voices heard and our ideas, dreams, and goals actualized. One person or a handful of people banging on a ceiling might not be able to make much of a dent, but together, I'm confident we can shatter the whole thing. If we can rise together, we can fly together; I bet that would be a sight to see."

Galloway is a graduate of distinction and valedictorian from Van Wert High School and a 2004 Woman of Achievement award winner. She currently lives in New York City and works as a journalist whose writing focuses primarily on fashion, culture, sustainability and design, and her work has appeared in the New York Daily News and New York Press papers. She is currently the Senior Style Editor for Well + Good.

During her speech, Galloway noted that women are incredible at holding space. Among many things, they are often shoulders to cry on and care takers, but she also noted that there is a push for women to take up as little space as possible. Galloway challenged this societal push.

"For a very long time, too long quite frankly, there's been a pervasive pressure placed upon women to make themselves small," said Galloway who said that forcing women to take up as little space as possible has adverse effects. "Studies have shown that when women are in decision-making, leadership positions communities overall are better."

"So how do we get more women a seat at the table?" she continued. "I believe it's by making a conscious choice as women of achievement to send a ladder of success down for other women to climb, rather than pulling it back up after us."

As the crowd applauded, Galloway added that women should also make sure the ladder is equipped with the strongest possible rungs to aid their ascension.

During the award portion of program, women were honored for the commitment to their community in categories such as Professional Development, Advocacy, Women's Empowerment, Racial Justice, Volunteerism, Youth Development, Civic Dedication, and Overcoming Adversity.

Nancy Sink was awarded for Professional Leadership.

Sink has devoted over 10 years to Van Wert through her involvement and direction in establishing Family Health Care of Northwest Ohio, a federally qualified health center that provides primary and preventative care to all regardless of their ability to pay.

"Nancy, who is the heart and soul of Family Health Care, saw a need and felt a social responsibility to make a difference within the community of Van Wert and its people," read Kelly Houg, Advocacy Coordinator of the YWCA.

Nancy Dixion was also nominated for the award.

In the category of Advocacy, Carole Motycka was the award winner.

Motycka recently fought stage 4 colon cancer and a failing liver. While doing so, she dedicated herself to help others fighting colorectal cancer. She has worked to grow awareness about colon cancer and has advocated that liver transplants are an option for patients.

"Even now, every single day, Carole is sharing positive words and messages of hope," read Julie Schaufelberger, YWCA Outreach Coordinator. "She tells her story and shares her knowledge to help others fiercely advocate for themselves or their loved ones."

Other nominees for the category were Brianne Fishpaw and Trina Langdon.

Erika Wise was awarded the Women's Empowerment Award.

Wise has been the basketball coach to the same group of girls, who are currently eighth graders, for the past seven years. She organizes practices, extracurricular actives, tournaments, and more.

"She has gone above and beyond to teach these female athletes to have strength, courage, bravery, confidence, boldness, humbleness, grit, and joy," read Houg. "Both on and off the court."

The Van Wert eighth grade girls basketball team joined Wise on stage and presented her with a signed basketball to show their appreciation.

In the category of Racial Justice, Keila Barnhart was awarded.

Barnhart moved from Puerto Rico ahead of her family at age 19. She lived with a host family, learning English and trying to make her way in a strange new place that was often unkind to her.

At the time, the church she attended preached against mixed marriages, which was an issue when she met her now-husband Vince. Their church fought their union and the pastor even went so far as trying to separate their union when they announced they were moving to Vince's hometown in Van Wert.

"She felt very small and powerless against accusations that were formulated because of the color of her skin and her accent," read Schaufelberger. "However, these experiences gave Keila the opportunity to help women trapped in abusive relationships whose story could only be shared through an interpreter."

Hannah Kraner was awarded the Volunteerism Award.

Kraner, a senior at Van Wert High School, has always had a passion for serving others. Through making and selling baked goods, she raised $1,500 which she split and donated to 15 different organizations. Kraner has volunteered over 600 hours serving various organizations and charities.

"Hannah had learned that not everyone is as fortunate as she is," read Houg. "With that, Hannah believes that if there is any way to help those less fortunate than she is, then she will do whatever it is to help."

Other nominees in the category were Nancy Friemoth, Jessica Hardesty, and Sandy Lane.

In the category of Youth Development, Martha Martin was awarded.

Martin is the YMCA Aquatics Director. She started full-time at the YMCA in 2004 and has been teaching swim lessons since 1975. She has coached the youngest swimmers for the Van Wert Marlins for the last several years and has trained teens and adults as lifeguards. Martin is also Van Wert High Schools diving and swim coach.

"Martha has gone above and beyond for many years to help children, teens, and adults achieve their highest potential as it relates to the area of aquatics and fitness," read Schaufelberger. "She is encouraging but takes no excuses and can be firm when necessary."

Deb Stetler, Brenda DeLong, and Darla Dunlap were also nominated in the category.

J.J. McClain was awarded the Civic Dedication Award.

McClain, a 26-year veteran of the Ohio State High Way Patrol, implemented a school bus and railroad safety program for elementary students in eight local counties. She speaks to students about responsible decision making, potential danger zones, and a proper way to get on and off the school bus.

"J.J. is a woman with exceptional integrity, unwavering principle, and strength of character," read Houg. "She is greatly respected by her peers and supervisors for her diligence, enthusiasm, and dedication to the public which she serves."

Michelle Gunter was also nominated for the award.

In the Overcoming Adversity category, Victoria Ellerbrock was awarded.

At 14 years old, Ellerbrock started working to help her mother make ends meet. As the oldest child, she helped raise her siblings and does so to this day since both of her parents are now deceased. At 23, Ellerbrock lost her husband in a hunting accident. Then in 2005, her only child Aiden suffered a serious brain injury from which he is still recovering today.

"The only message that I would ever want anyone to take away from me is to love and cherish every single minute, for we are all on borrowed time and nothing is forever," read Schaufelberger quoting Ellerbrock. "Our lives change in the blink of an eye, but one thing that has never changed is the abundance of love that I have for my son."

Hatti Bouillon was also nominated in the category.

The YWCA also presented a special 2019 Dedication Award, the first of its kind, to an employee who has shown love, loyalty, and faithfulness at the YWCA of Van Wert County.

Vickie Rusk was given the surprise award. Rusk has worked at the YWCA for over 40 years and is the first face many see when entering the facility.

"We did feel it was long, long overdue that we celebrate her devotion and contribution to the success of so much that has happened over the years at the YWCA thanks to Vickie," said YWCA Executive Director Kim Laudick.

Scholarships were also awarded to three young women during Thursday's event. Crestview's Chelsea Taylor was awarded a $750 scholarship, Lincolnview's Lakin Brant was awarded a $500 scholarship, and Crestview's Lauren Schumm was awarded a $300 scholarship.

Each award nominee received a gift bag and award winners received a bag donated by Stephanie Dawn.

"It is our hope that we all continue to empower one another," said Laudick in closing remarks. "If we stick together and support each other, incredible things are going to happen and can happen."